A Cruel Murder, Part 2

Continued from Part I

The next morning, Ruth managed to awaken her daughter, who had slept through everything and told her to go next door for help. When the police arrived, they quickly realized the scene was staged. First, they found some of Ruth’s “stolen” jewelry hidden under a mattress.

Lorraine Snyder

Then, they interviewed little Lorraine, who told them, “Mama and Papa quarreled lots.” When they pressed her, she told them that her mother frequently stayed away all night.  The police were very suspicious and one of them managed to find Ruth’s diary, where she wrote openly about her affair with Judd Gray and her contempt for Albert, who had never gotten over his dead fiancée. Another officer found a small pin with the initials JG inscribed on it. This tiny article sealed it, in the detective’s opinions.

They said nothing right away, but easily tracked down Judd Gray, and brought him in for questioning. Judd folded immediately under pressure and told the police that Ruth had gotten him to help her murder her husband. The light blue shirt in his hotel room was identified as one belonging to Albert Snyder.

Ruth was arrested and shown the diary and the pin, and told of Judd’s confession. Upon hearing Gray had confessed, Ruth turned on him. They would be tried together for the murder of Albert Snyder. In an ironic twist, the pin with the JG initials was later found to belong not to Mrs. Snyder’s lover, but to Mr. Snyder’s former fiancée, Jessie Guishard.

Mugshots of the lovestruck and murderous duo

The trial began April 11, and lasted three weeks. Ruth Snyder said Gray instigated and carried out the murder over her protests. Gray’s attorney said that his client tried to back out at the last moment, but Mrs. Snyder pulled him into the bedroom and commanded at him to strike. When Judd was about to be overpowered, “she finished the job herself.”

The jury didn’t believe either of the defendants. They deliberated for 71 minutes and returned with a guilty verdict for first-degree murder against Gray and Snyder. They would be sentenced later in the week.

Ruth being led into court

Throughout the trial, Mrs. Snyder was described as steely and cold. But the morning after the guilty verdict, Ruth had the first of many of what the newspapers called “collapses”. The doctors called it hysterical epilepsy, and noted that, if repeated often, would no doubt result in insanity. In his cell, Judd Gray breakfasted calmly.

The two were sentenced on Friday, May 13, 1927 by Justice Townsend Scudder. Though the Justice Scudder was outspoken against capital punishment, the law was the law. He told Ruth and Judd they would die in the electric chair in Sing Sing. Neither defendant displayed any emotion. They would be transferred to the prison Monday.

Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star described the famous couple in their respective cells that night. “[Judd Gray] sees himself as ‘one of the best examples of what whisky, lust, and sin will ultimately lead one into.’ He is described as resigned to his doom. Mrs. Snyder, the Queens Village housewife, sees herself a victim of injustice and is prepared to fight against the death sentence.”

Sing Sing (picture from deathhousebarber.com)

At Sing Sing, Judd’s intake papers noted he had a wife, Isabel, and a child. He was a high school graduate and an Episcopalian, who regularly attended church, and had no criminal record. He smoked and drank, but did not use drugs. His criminal acts, they wrote, were attributed to intemperance and women. Judd had $8.50 in his pocket, which was confiscated. He signed the form in his belabored handwriting: H. Judd Gray.

Judd’s signature

Ruth was a Catholic housewife, who occasionally attended mass. She had an 8thgrade education, and described herself as a moderate drinker. She did not use tobacco or drugs. She had no criminal record. Mrs. Snyder’s purse, which contained $15.24 was confiscated, too. She added her large, airy signature to the wrong field.

Ruth’s signature

Due to the appeals, Ruth and Judd were inmates at Sing Sing for eight months. On November 25, Ruth Snyder sent her mother and daughter a cheery telegram. “Feeling fine,” she wrote. “Have nothing to worry about.” Perhaps she thought the governor would stay her execution.

Ruth, with her mother, Josephine Brown, and daughter, Lorraine

On January 12, 1928, Mrs. Snyder was half-led, half-pulled into the death chamber. There was a gasp from the reporters. The cold, steely blonde they remembered from the trial was nowhere to be seen. In her place was a haggard, frightened woman who had aged 25 years in a matter of months. The prisoner was marched to the electric chair and strapped in. Just before the mask was placed over her face, Ruth Snyder cried out, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do!”

The case and trial were sensational and the room was crowded with reporters who were there to witness the execution. Photographs were strictly forbidden but photographer Tom Howard managed to sneak in a customized camera, by strapping it to his ankle. At the moment the electric current began, Tom snapped his picture. The next morning his blurry photo appeared on the front page of the New York Daily News.

The ghastly picture of Ruth’s execution

There is a horror about the photograph Tom Howard took. It’s the only photograph ever taken of an electric chair execution. Edison videotaped the electrocution of Leon Czolgosz, President McKinley’s assassin, but it lacks the nightmarish quality of this photo.

Ruth was pronounced dead at 11:09 a.m., and her body was removed. Seconds later, Judd Gray was brought in. The reporters remembered his “jaunty walk” from the trial and noted that he seemed calm. He had told the Warden that morning that his wife had written a letter to him, forgiving him, and he was “ready to go.” His lips moved in a silent prayer but no words could be discerned. He was pronounced dead at 11:15 a.m.

Judd Gray was pronounced dead six minutes after Ruth.

It fell to the record keeper at Sing Sing to take the last official action of the case. He pulled the files for Snyder and Gray and wrote, “Discharged by execution, January 12, 1928.”

I highly recommend True Crime Historian’s episode about the casewhich includes a performance with a full cast of actors. Very unique and entertaining!